On May 30, the Kerala government recreated Misra Bhojanam – an inter-caste community feast which was last held a century ago by social reformer Sahodaran Ayyappan.
Misra Bhojanam involved people of all castes to sit together under one roof for a feast of rice along with a side dish made of jackfruit seeds and chickpeas. This was a time when caste restrictions in Kerala did not even permit the lower classes to use the same ponds or wells as the upper caste communities. Ayyappan faced a lot of opposition for holding Misra Bhojanam and was also socially boycotted by many.
On Tuesday, Kerala’s dignitaries and political leaders, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala, gathered at Thundidaparambu to have another community feast together.
To commemorate the event, CM Vijayan’s office made a Facebook post a day after the event, on May 31:
“It is a matter of great pride that even over a hundred years back there were people like Sahodaran (brother) Ayyappan who fought against caste system, superstitions and other social evils using scientific thinking. In 1917, Sahodaran Ayyappan conducted Misra Bhojanam, an act of people eating together irrespective of caste differences, in Cherai district of Ernakulam and it had set in motion strong social currents.
Despite this head start, what is the condition of our society after 100 years of the Misra Bhojanam? Women and children are forced to take extreme measures to protect themselves from certain swamis. Some miscreants exploit people by claiming divine powers, some torment and kill women in the name of witchcraft. People buy Dhanalakshmi Yantras believing it will bring money. Some think buying special types of conches will get them out of poverty. Many marriages are affected by the so called celestial bodies and Akshayatritiya becomes a jewellery shopping festival hoping it will also bring fortune. Even in this 21st century such practices are gaining popularity despite all our advances in scientific thinking. These issues are not particular to any one community but all sects and communities show such regressive trends.
Even when our period is referred to as the golden age of technology it is both shameful and shocking to humanity that the killing of dalits and the cruelty against women and children continue unabated. At this juncture, it is particularly relevant to celebrate the centenary of the Misra Bhojanam. Sahodaran Ayyapan tried to bring into practice his teacher Sree Narayana Guru’s advice that all human beings are equal and that there should be no discrimination.
When we hear about caste discrimination many people think that it is a practice that the Savarnas observe against Avarnas. But there were clear cut caste hierarchies among the Avarna communities too. Those who were ‘below’ in the hierarchy would be kept away by the communities which were ‘above’. The Ezhavas avoided eating food with the communities whom they thought were below them in the caste hierarchy. It was during such a time that Sahodaran Ayyapan conducted the revolutionary act of organising the Misra Bhojanam, bringing together people from the bottom of the caste hierarchy.
He conducted it in several places and his acts became a trumpet call for the liberation of communities which were reeling under the slavery of caste system. A large section of society didn’t have the freedom of speech, freedom to travel, freedom to learn or the freedom to eat with others, with various restrictions on their social life. It was a time in which severe caste discrimination was practised vertically between those castes which were above and below, and horizontally between the different castes at the same level, within the hierarchy. Thus the historical intention of the Misra Bhojanam was to give self-esteem and to instill a sense of pride to those who were the most deprived and marginalized due to the evil caste system.
Sahodaran Ayyapan was a torch bearer of progressive politics and built a strong base for rationalism in our society. He was also an administrator with a long-term vision. He is also a pioneer in using journalism for the transformation of the society.
Nowadays, all anti-cultural and anti-social activities are justified under the banner ‘Indian culture’. Our culture is not monolithic as the protectors of the ‘Indian culture’ claim it to be. Our culture is what people like Sree Narayana Guru, Sahodaran Ayyapan, VT Bhattathirippad, Ayyankaali and EMS have shown to us. Sahodaran Ayyapan’s memory will inspire us to engage with our times through a scientific and rational outlook.”
It is a matter of great pride that even over a hundred years back there were people like Sahodaran (brother) Ayyappan…
The Kerala CMO’s post is appreciative as it is made at a time when most political leaders refrain from talking about issues related to caste because their sensitivity might cost them votes.
The post wasn’t about a political achievement of the ruling party. It wasn’t about praising the current government. All that the post talks about is the frailty in the caste system and how it needs to be done away with.
Misra Bhojanam was held by the Kerala government to battle that mindset of people which discriminates against certain sections of the society, The CMO’s post encourages meaningful discourse. What’s more inspiring is that all feast was supported by an array of the state’s political leaders, including the leader of opposition.
The Logical Indian community applauds the Kerala government’s efforts to educate people about the barbarity of the caste system. We hope that other political leaders see this as an example and start a similar discourse in their states.